In times when our interactions with the universe seem to only propagate undesirable outcomes, the least we can do out of love for ourselves is to be on our own sides. It’s a simple idea, but you really have to know first hand what it’s like to become so disinhibited in one’s self-sabotaging in times of duress. Being on our own side is often the hardest things to do on a sustained basis.
We have many ways of harming ourselves. Some are conscious and ‘controlled’ while others are insidious and the roots of their ‘wrongness’ often elude us until it is too late. We may be the most observant and conscientious people when it comes to others and can astutely identify destructive patterns in organizations and persons, but more often than not, we lack the self-awareness to see similar patterns in ourselves, and subsequently break free from them.
I consider myself to be a rather levelheaded person who routinely scores low in neuroticism in everyday personality tests. This is because consciously or subconsciously, I have trained myself to be selective about the kind and degree of stimuli I seek in people and situations. However, constantly having to do this gets pretty boring quickly and limits one’s opportunities for growth. Thus, as young adults are often wont to do, in the spirit of exploring the unknown territories within myself, in the last couple of years I have undertaken various things that are situated beyond my preconceived comfort zone. 90% of these situations have left my inner peace unscathed, whereas 10% has definitely wreaked havoc in my being, beyond the time I committed to the specific situations. It’s the type of learning process we continue to explore throughout our lifetimes, but the problems arise when we don’t deviate from patterns that have hurt us.
There is an oft-repeated saying, misattributed to a series of imminent people; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. With this in mind, we can deviate from our daily routines for novelty and excitement, and bring them into our lives. However, not abiding by this admonition can also entrap us in situations that no longer serve our best interests. In my experience, the inertia experienced by people doing the latter is far greater than the former. It is easy to ‘improve’ your life when you’re not self-sabotaging. It is far more difficult to put an end to the demolition you have ordered upon your own being, and slowly do the necessary clean up to start anew.
Broadly speaking, introverts tend to be the minority in human populations. From childhood, we are encouraged to be more outgoing and be ever-present and eager for opportunities that await us in the outside world. Introversion manifests itself in a variety of forms, but in a world where the default is to always be open to socialization, most of these forms are at least implicitly stigmatized. In the last few years, I began to forget how to practice the sublime art of self-preservation, and how tending to the spectacular garden inside our minds can be a pursuit worthier than any sort of high society schmoozing, and as a result, I became increasingly apt to self-sabotage.
The kind of self-sabotage I speak of did not leave me with tangible scars or even financial distress. It’s the kind of self-sabotage that manifested itself by reminding me that if I were somehow different, perhaps, more outgoing, less mellow and more of a Type A personality, I would miss out on less of the canonical experiences that make a life. It’s the fear of missing out that shackled me to superficial goals and made me compare my values and ambitions to others around me, whose lives I never really sought to have. Instead, I was in deep danger of missing out on my own version of canonical life experiences.
There is a rather out-dated model of personality psychology that categorizes individuals based on their instinctual subtypes: self-preserving, sexual or social. It seems that my self-preserving and sexual instincts have been in constant competition with each other. These two are quite different animals. The self-preservation instinct is a complacent self-indulgent cat that likes to sleep beside the fireplace. The sexual instinct is a curious albeit naive horse that doesn’t realize that sometimes curiosity can be damning when it is not properly guided. It doesn’t know when its own actions cast its life against itself. My self-preservation instinct wants to stay in indefinitely on grim fall days and drink cocoa whereas my sexual instincts told me to explore worlds beyond the everyday and have led me to the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Both of these have been good teachers and allies when the time was apropos, and at other times they have failed me miserably, and I have not given myself the respect I deserve. My hope for the future is that I find wiser ways to facilitate a happy marriage between my two competing, but not necessarily diverging instincts. I need this to be a resilient and content person. I need this to be on my own side.